There are many things to get excited about in regards to the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series. New faces have emerged. Giants have been caught. And we’ve already given away one of those coveted blue trophies that solidify an angler’s name among the greats for the rest of time. Now, we come to the big show. The 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk is coming to one of the most prestigious and well-known venues in the country.
Lake Guntersville has hosted more than 20 events that span from the 1970s to present. This lake has pumped out giants for decades, and we should be hitting it at a perfect time for this to be one of the most exciting Classics in history. The last time B.A.S.S. was there during the early spring was 2014 when Randy Howell came from way back in the pack and crushed nearly 30 pounds on the final day to win. Howell won with a slim 1-pound margin over Paul Mueller who, the day before, set the record for the largest bag ever to be weighed at a Classic with more than 32 pounds!
That year, there was a pretty significant cold front that pushed through right before the event. There were actually parts of the lake that had ice covering the water. However, as the tournament progressed, the temperatures ticked upward and got the fish moving in a big way. The key then was to find pinch points leading to spawning areas that had fish coming to you. Howell made a gutsy move to a very special bridge and found the perfect scenario where giants were constantly funneling through.
You can bet that bridges will again be a key part of the formula for the victory this time around, too. Crankbaits and jigs dominated, but I wouldn’t hesitate, with it being two weeks later in the year, to throw in some big swimbaits. This is a “go big or go home” event. For these guys, second place is first place loser. They’re all swinging for it, so expect to see guys hunting five bites a day. The guys who can connect and put all those five in the boat will find themselves in the Super Six vying for the title.
The water is dirtier than usual with all the rainfall upriver in Chickamauga, but hopefully the rain will hold off and let the water stabilize a bit. The 15-day forecast shows a warming trend near the start of the event, but if we know anything about the weather, it’s that we don’t know anything about the weather. A cold front could strike at any time and throw these guys a curveball.
BUCKET A: ZALDAIN
There’s not a more obvious choice for a favorite in Bucket A than the Zaldaingerous one. He proved to everyone last year that he can catch them in just about every scenario possible. His year got off to a rocky start with a dismal finish at the St. Johns River. He had a middling finish last year there as well, and if history is any indicator, his 80th-place finish to begin this year is going to light a fire under his you-know-what. He will be coming in hot and ready. He also is hurting for a second chance on Guntersville. Last year, in the final seconds, he hooked and lost the winning fish several times and ended up finishing second to Hartman. He’ll be chucking a big bait around for sure, but he’s no slouch with a crankbait either.
Also Consider: Bill Lowen
Lowen finished 30th here in the 2014 Classic and also notched a 14th-place finish last year during the summer event. If the weather turns and this becomes a grinder’s playground, he has the patience and skills to find bites when it’s tough on the rest of the field, especially when dirty water is involved.
BUCKET B: COBB
This bucket is a little more spread out than Bucket A for me. Last season several guys made big statements in the early parts of the season. Brandon Cobb was certainly one that stood out in a big way with two … that's two early season wins. He targeted spawning fish on both Hartwell and Fork, showing he knows how to find the right kind of fish this time of year. He has a sixth-place finish on the FLW Tour from 2017 during a February event and landed 29th here last season. He is coming off a 43rd-place finish in Florida, but while his record would say Florida doesn’t really suit his style, Alabama certainly should.
Also Consider: Paul Mueller
It was tough for me to pass on Mueller. He has proven to be tough to beat in the Classic, and if he could have had his Day 1 back in 2014, he would have smashed all the records. He weighed in three fish for 9 pounds on the first day and only lost by a single pound. Even if you assumed his Day 2 heroics were a fluke, that was a fleeting thought once he dropped 24 pounds on the scales on Day 3. It might be really dumb to pass him up.
BUCKET C: LIVESAY
This will be Livesay’s first ever Bassmaster Classic. Until recently, he has been spending a ton of time on Lake Fork where he guides when he isn’t traveling to compete. Similar to Guntersville, Lake Fork is high, cold and dirty right now, and geographically, it should be just a little bit ahead of where Guntersville is in regards to the spawn. Outside of regular current, there are a ton of similarities between those bodies of water that I think will help give him a little extra practice. Those Fork fish tend to congregate on bridges too this time of year. All those things considered, that could give him an edge. It sure would be fun to see him bring the trophy home to my home state of Texas.
Also Consider: David Mullins
Red crankbaits were a massive player last year at Lanier where Mullins brought home a fourth-place finish. Everyone knows that a red crankbait gets a ton of quality bites on Guntersville this time of year. He has always been known as a crankbait specialist, so this one will fit right in his wheelhouse.
BUCKET D: AUTEN
If there is one bait Todd is known to throw it’s a spinnerbait, and I expect that it will likely be another one of the primary baits used here. Not only is it a great prespawn bait, but it tends to get better than average bites. I expect Todd to ride his momentum coming off his 17th-place finish at the first stop and make a good showing here.
Also Consider: Luke Palmer
This will be Palmer’s first trip to the Bassmaster Classic and with that comes a whole list of distractions. He had a great season last year only missing the Day 3 cut three times all season. His best finishes were at Lake Fork and Winyah Bay, both being heavy spawning events. If he can keep his head on straight amidst all the commotion, he might surprise us all.
BUCKET E: HUFF
Momentum and ability to perform under pressure are two very important factors when it comes to the Classic. It would be a long shot to say anyone in Bucket E is a favorite because none of these guys have ever fished a Classic before. However, in just the last few weeks, Huff has blown the doors off a few very high-profile tournaments, and for a college student to walk home with a Happy Gilmore check and a Costa series trophy from Toledo Bend tells me he can handle the pressure. He also won the Bassmaster College Series on the same lake the week before. Needless to say, he is feeling strong right now. Should he find himself in the right areas, he could create some fireworks.
Also Consider: Grae Buck
Speaking of momentum, Buck is coming off of a Top-20 finish at Sam Rayburn in an FLW event, and at the time of this writing is sitting near the top of the leaderboard at the Harris Chain. He is also no stranger to the top level of the sport, as he spent the last few seasons fishing on the FLW Tour. He will likely slip under a lot of people’s radar, which could help him focus on catching fish instead of media attention.